Women of Gambling

Kitty Leroy

kitty-leroy-239x300Kitty Leroy was a notorious entertainer and card player in the American Old West. In her short, tempestuous life, Leroy was married no fewer than five times and eventually shot dead by her fifth husband, who subsequently committed suicide, at the age of 28. Leroy is believed to have been born in Michigan in 1850, but little is known about her early life. She is first recorded, as a dancer, in Dallas, Texas in 1875, where she was a regular performer – billed as ‘Queen of the Hoofers’ – at Johnny Thompson’s Variety Theatre.

Leroy later sought fortune in San Francisco but, having missed the peak of the California Gold Rush, found slim pickings and quickly moved on to the next gold boomtown, Deadwood Gulch, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In Deadwood, Leroy opened the successful Mint Gambling Saloon, which also housed a brothel, of which she was madam. She married her fifth husband, Samuel Curley, in 1877, but their relationship – which was based, first and foremost, on a shared love of gambling – soon soured and Curley left Deadwood for a lengthy period. When he returned the following year, his attempt at reconciliation failed and, in desperation, he shot Leroy in the chest before turning the gun on himself.

Judy Bayley

judy-bayley-300x298The late Judy Bayley, who died of cancer in 1971 at the age of 56, was affectionately known as ‘The First Lady of Gambling’ and is best remembered as the owner of the Hacienda Hotel and Casino on the Last Vegas Strip. Born in Dallas, Texas, Bayley married Californian hotelier Warren ‘Doc’ Bayley in 1936 and, in 1956, they opened the Hacienda Hotel, followed by the Hacienda Casino a year later.

Warren Bayley died in 1964, leaving Judy Bayley to take over operations and making her, in fact, the first woman to own a Nevada resort outright. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, but with no formal business training, Bayley nonetheless recognised that publicity was the key to making a profit in the casino business. A tall, striking woman, Bayley was frequently photographed, often in furs and jewellery, by way of promoting herself and her resort.

Aside from her business acumen, Bayley also commissioned the famous Hacienda Horse and Rider – the classic neon sign, featuring a 40-foot cowboy – now on display of Fremont Street, Las Vegas and was well known for her philanthropic activities. The ‘Judy Bailey Theatre’ at the University of Las Vegas, which opened in 1972, bears her name.

Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun – The Baccarat Machine



In January of 2017, Cigar Aficionado ran a story about Cheung Yin “Kelly” Sun, introducing much of the world to the best female baccarat player of our time. Or at least, that is the reputation Sun boasted almost a decade ago. Though it is accurate that Sun cleaned out many casinos in the early-2010s playing Asia’s favorite table game, what is also true is that she did so by taking the element of chance out of the game. This Chinese-born gambler partnered with now Hall of Fame poker player Phil Ivey, as the duo implemented a technique called edge-sorting to beat croupiers in baccarat.

Edge-sorting helps players familiar with specific decks identify quality cards in a game by studying the patterns on their backs. Naturally, despite there being a wealth of sites to play baccarat in the USA, edge sorting is only applicable when physical cards are in play due to the uniqueness of each deck series. Sun was the first person to identify that some decks had such a vulnerability. Her attentiveness and attention to detail earned her the title – the Queen of Sorts and later – The Baccarat Machine. In 2012, she and Ivey played marathon sessions of baccarat in gaming venues across Britain and New Jersey, winning millions. That said, despite their inventiveness, Sun and Ivey did not get to keep their winnings, as courts of law ruled that their technique constituted cheating and not advantage play as this duo claimed.

Kelly Sun’s Childhood and Rise to Prominence

Born in 1976 in Northern China, Sun was the daughter of an entrepreneur whose family had made their wealth in the banking world. However, during China’s Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, imprisoned the wealthy because of his Marxist–Leninist ideology. Sun’s father was among many rich people sent to work camps during the last years of Mao’s reign. Thus, Sun grew up poor, wearing shoes that her mother made out of cardboard.

After Mao Zedong died, China got a more capitalist-oriented leadership, and Sun’s father got released from a work camp. He instantly went back into the business world, launching a wooden products factory, and got wealthy again. This newly attained fortune paid for Sun’s Shanghai schooling and let her enjoy a much higher standard of living.

By age fifteen, Sun had already been bitten by the gambling bug, frequently playing poker for real money. She often would get on gambling cruises out of Hong Kong, using a fake ID, and sometimes would even make her way to Macau. What solidified her path en route to becoming a career gambler was a baccarat session in Macau, where she managed to turn $1,500 into $150,000.

Once she turned eighteen, her family sent Sun to Paris to study fashion design at the world-renowned Sorbonne University. However, she decided that this was not the road for her and fully dedicated herself to gambling and leading a jet-setter lifestyle in her 20s. Though, no one should assume that Sun always came out on top when she would walk onto a gaming floor. Lady luck frequently left her side. By her estimates, as a young woman, Sun lost around $20 million of her father’s money playing games of chance around the world.

In 2006, she would spend 21 days in the Clark County Detention Center for signing a $100,000 unpaid marker for a friend at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand casino. While in solitary confinement at this facility, she began practicing counting cards and inadvertently devised edge-sorting, an ingenious card-identifying technique that could get easily applied at baccarat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Awkwafina to Star as Sun in Upcoming Baccarat Machine Film

In February of 2020, Variety posted that New York-based comedian and actress Nora Lum, better known to the public as Awkwafina, will star as Sun in a motion picture about this Chinese baccarat player. SK Global is the production company spearheading this project, and they are the team behind a slew of successful movies such as Crazy Rich Asians, Money Ball, and Hell or High Water. Andy Bellin of Trust and Lovelace-fame will pen the project.

Awkwafina rose to fame with roles in Ocean’s Eight and The Farewell, for which she won a Golden Globe in 2020. She currently has a comedy television series airing on Comedy Central titled Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens. Expectations are that The Baccarat Machine will begin filming sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. The movie’s producers believe that Awkwafina has the talent to bring Sun’s story to life while infusing the film with humanity and genuine humor.

About the Author

Shelly Schiff has been working in the gambling industry since 2009, mainly on the digital side of things, employed by OnlineUnitedStatesCasinos.com. However, over her eleven-year career, Shelly has provided content for many other top interactive gaming websites. She knows all there is to know about slots and has in-depth knowledge of the most popular table games. Her golden retriever Garry occupies most of her leisure time. Though, when she can, she loves reading Jim Thompson-like crime novels.

Pansy Ho

pansy-ho-300x209Pansy Ho has several nicknames, including the ‘Queen of Gambling’, but is not so much a gambler as a facilitator of gambling insofar as she is co-chairperson and executive director of MGM China Holdings, which owns the MGM Macau luxury resort, hotel and casino on the Macau peninsula. Ho is the eldest daughter of retired casino tycoon Stanley Ho, a.k.a. the ‘King of Gambling’, but was thrust into the spotlight, in her own right, when she opened the MGM Macau, as a joint venture with MGM Resorts International, formerly MGM Mirage, in December, 2007.

Although born, in her own words, ‘with a silver gambling chip in my mouth’, Ho has proved herself a shrewd, ambitious and determined businesswoman. She is by no means a ‘figurehead’, financially dependent on her father – who is believed, by many, to be connected to organised crime syndicates – and thereby ‘vulnerable to his potential influence and control’, as was suggested by a report issued by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 2009. With a net worth of HK$36.1 billion, or US$4.6 billion, Pansy Ho would appear to be the natural heir to the Ho empire, but Stanley Ho has fathered no fewer than 17 children, so sibling rivalry over control of the business seems likely to continue for a while yet.

Virginia McDowell

Virginia-McDowell-300x179Formerly President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc, Virginia McDowell is a luminary in the gaming industry. A graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, just after gambling was legalised in New Jersey, McDowell boasts 35 years’ experience in the casino industry and has received several prestigious awards, not least being named Gaming Executive of Year by ‘Casino Journal’ in 2009.

Having retired from Capri Casinos in 2016 – as the first, and only, president and CEO of a major, publicly-traded gaming company – McDowell serves a president and chairwoman of the not-for-profit organisation Global Gaming Women, which seeks to further the cause of women in the gaming industry. In 2018, she was also appointed independent, non-executive director of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) -listed sports betting company GVC Holdings, with a view to expanding its U.S. operations. Casinos are big business worldwide now of course, from Kasinot ilman rekisteröitymistä to just about every location you might care to think of.

Now in the veteran stage of her career, McDowell is still revered throughout the gaming industry, and beyond, for her innovative thinking, leadership and communication skills. She is renowned for her unique perspective on the gaming industry and is, consequently, frequently called upon by academic, civic and organisations as a keynote speaker, moderator or panellist.